“The Munsters” is one of those old-school ’60s sitcoms that couch potatoes of a certain age watched and rewatched throughout their formative years. We absorbed these shows’ quirks and themes and catchphrases so completely that the merest of references can trigger a flood of childhood memories. They weren’t the acme of broadcast art, but they filled our afternoons with machine-manufactured laughs, and we loved them for it.
So when a studio goes chasing nostalgia bucks by transferring a popular TV show to the big screen, they’re best off playing it safe and emulating the vibe of the original. Barry Sonnenfeld’s “The Addams Family” movies did this to perfection, and were handsomely rewarded at the box office. On the other hand, Blumhouse’s “Fantasy Island” transformed the celebrities-of-the-week formula that made the ABC series a cheesy guilty pleasure into a charmless horror flick, and audiences loathed it.
Rob Zombie’s “The Munsters,” which premieres today on Netflix, appears to be a blend of new and old. Herman (Jeff Daniel Phillips), Lily (Sheri Moon Zombie), and Grandpa aka The Count (Daniel Roebuck) look very much like they did on television over 50 years ago, but instead of portraying them as a settled family unit, Zombie, who flashed his super-fan credentials back in 1998 by recording a song dedicated to Grandpa’s legendary hot rod, has opted to tell an origin story of sorts. For instance, we now know that Herman’s lumbering, reanimated body is powered by the brain of a stand-up comic. How did this impact the actors’ interpretations of these beloved roles?
Herman Munster, Teenager
In an interview with /Film’s B.J. Colangelo, Phillips explained that his Herman is quite unlike Fred Gwynne’s version of the character in that he’s come “right off the slab.” They just created the guy by Dr. Wolfgang,” said Phillips. “So he’s trying to figure it all out. His brain’s trying to get this whole body to move. I use this analogy, it’s like his brain’s used to driving a Ford Fiesta, and now he’s in a GTO, and he’s just trying to make it all work.”
In other words, Phillips’ Herman is a work-in-progress of sorts, not unlike a kid hitting puberty:
“He’s very cocky. He’s almost like a teenager. That’s how I approached it, and wide-eyed. Where Fred Gwynne was like, he had this charm and yeah, he was childlike too, but I was just trying to get somebody who was trying to find their voice. And that’s why his voice would crack and it was a little higher.”
While Phillips admits that he’s not an impressionist, long-time fans can take heart that he learned how to deliver Herman’s trademark laugh. Will he also throw tantrums like Gwynne’s big, bratty lug? We’ll find out soon enough!
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